Nothing stands still,especially in the world of electric bikes.Not so long ago,buyers who couldn’t afford the £850+ for a basic Giant Lafree were faced with a huge choice of cheaper alternatives,all of them heavy,slow and relatively crude. That looks like changing,with a new breed of bikes in the £500-£600 range,of which Giant’s own Suede is the most obvious example.And these cheaper bikes are getting better:the Suede is expected to be relaunched in 2007 with a freewheel in the motor, the lack of which was one of our biggest criticisms. None are as sophisticated as the purely pedelec Lafree,but the new generation all make use of Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries,which weigh about half as much as traditional lead-acids, and they are finally starting to come down in price as production volumes increase. The Powacycle Windsor is one such,and at £499 appears to tick most of the right boxes.It’s got a NiMH battery,aluminium step-through frame,smart black wheel rims,Vbrakes and a sturdy rack. And it weighs 23.7kg – slightly less than claimed,and lighter than almost anything except the basic Lafree. There’s been a fairly obvious attempt to give it a Lafree sort of look,and in a chunky,less elegant way, they’ve succeeded. If there’s a drawback,it’s that the Windsor’s battery is a relatively puny 192 watt/hours (the Ezee range,for example,offer 324 watt/hours) so it won’t be burning any tarmac.
Still,that’s very much in keeping with the Windsor’s appearance,which suggests genteel potters to Thameside shops rather than pounding the mean streets of Bristol or London.Ladies who lunch will love it,but they might find the riding position a bit odd the bottom bracket is mounted a couple of inches further back than usual,so your feet keep slipping forward on the pedals,though the wide,pull-back bars are comfy.The saddle is a large squishy item that feels quite pleasant at first,but gets to be a pain after a dozen miles or so. Progress is stately.The Windsor,like many electric bikes,gives riders the choice of both pedelec (power comes in when you pedal) and twistgrip control,though in this case the throttle gives a power boost over and above pedelec mode.At least,that’s the theory,and using the twistgrip certainly draws extra energy from the battery,though the effect is pretty subtle.The motor is whisper-quiet,and the power delivery so gentle that one could be forgiven for forgetting that this bike has any power assistance at all. That illusion was soon dispelled by riding into town without the battery,which made it clear that the Powacycle’s motor is doing some useful work.But there’s none of the playful thrustiness of an Ezee – it’s more like having a gentle wind at your back all the time. That’s all very nice,but don’t expect to waft along at an effortless 15mph or more – the Powacycle motor has given its all by 13mph. Despite this,it climbs hills surprisingly well,needing only light pedal assistance to keep up a steady 8-10mph on moderate inclines.The gears help,a cheapo Shimano 6-speed derailleur that offers a 37-73 inch range.That’s not bad,but it would be nice to have a lower first when stuck with a flat batt in hilly country, and keen types will find that top gear runs out of cadence at 16-17mph.
…A range of 25 miles isn’t at all bad… and miles better than Powacycle would have you believe…
In town,we tended to use the twistgrip just for pulling away,especially up hills,for which it comes in very useful.Pedelec power doesn’t waft in until walking pace,so the twistgrip gives extra pulling away confidence from red lights and the like.As ever with the cruder type of pedelec sensor,power continues for a second or so after you stop pedalling,which can be alarming,if not dangerous,if you’re not ready for it.
Speaking of flat batteries,Powacycle claims a 13-17 mile range for the Windsor,‘with gentle pedalling on a flat surface.’ As most range claims have as much to do with truth as Enron’s accounts department, that comes over as exceedingly modest. And it is. Starting out from Dorchester with a full battery,we made it to Sherborne (20.5 miles) with plenty of power left over. Admittedly,we were only using the twistgrip on hills (of which there were only a couple),our average was a leisurely 12.3mph and we had a good strong tailwind,but even so…
Next morning, the 3-LED system finally flashed on to ‘Empty’ at 21.5 miles,and at 24.6 power became intermittent on the twistgrip – a bit like a moped running out of fuel,if you’ve ever experienced that
Like the Lafree, the Windsor draws its styling from the classic ladies roadster. A comfortable position and decent luggage carrying ability
a genuine battery capacity of around 190 watt/hours, which is even more amazing…
the pedelec following suit at 26.1.Professor Pivot tells us this intermittent power is due to a rather crude low voltage cut-out,which cuts in again immediately as the voltage rises. This cutting on and off is apparently bad for both electronics and battery,so at the first sign of this,it’s best to switch off the electrics and rely on pedal power alone.
A range of close on 25 miles isn’t at all bad for such a small battery,and miles better than Powacycle would have you believe.But just to be sure,we gave it a tougher test the following day,an 18-mile round trip, with some big hills and the sort of wind that’s always against you.Despite using the full twistgrip power wherever possible, speed was down to 11.9mph,and the trip almost flattened the battery.But the range was still better than Powacycle’s claim,with the Empty light staying on at 18.5 miles,and the cut-out cutting-in a mile later.
One interesting point is that the power didn’t get noticeably more feeble when the battery was low, and the first warning sign (you can’t see the three LEDs from the saddle) was that intermittent running.In any case,the three LED display is less than informative,the ‘Full’ light disappearing within a couple of miles. Powacycle claim a 4-6 hour charge time,which seems optimistic when you see the size of the diddy charger.This gets quite hot, though it managed a full recharge in 5 hours 10mins. Once again,this is bang in the middle of the importer’s claim,and suggests a genuine battery capacity of around 190 watt/hours,which is even more amazing.
As a bicycle,the Windsor is quite pleasant,with its relaxed riding position (we got used to the backwards bottom bracket after a while).There isn’t enough saddle adjustment (86-96cm) for six-footers,though the handlebars can be swivelled between 94-99cm,and the Windsor is physically bigger than all but the biggest Lafree.
It’s very stable too,even at 38mph down a long steep hill,and the 6-speed derailleur might be cheap,but it works well enough.The cheap V-brakes are what you’d expect,and once again,they do the job without any great finesse,but what really concerned us were the suspension forks.As forks,they soak up the bumps quite well,and are especially good at wafting over speed humps. But those on the test bike had an alarming amount of play.Peel back the loose fitting gaiter, and you can see just how bad a fit the plastic bush is in the fork.They judder badly under heavy braking,and if bicycles had to pass an MOT, these would have brought an instant failure. If it’s impossible to supply decent suspension forks at the price,they shouldn’t be there at all. Ordinary forks would be stronger and could save up to a kilogram – useful in a market where weight competition is becoming very keen.
The rest of the Windsor’s equipment tells a happier tale. The rear rack looks strong,and doesn’t come with bungees but has plenty of hook points,there’s a useful kickstand,a proper bell,a chainguard,full mudguards and chunky looking Kenda 26 x 1.75 tyres,which seemed to roll along well.On the other hand,you don’t get lights,the brake levers aren’t span-adjustable and the battery lock consists of a spigot that pokes through a hole in the plastic battery casing,which doesn’t inspire much confidence.The battery is easy to slide in and out,unlike some we could mention,and one nice point is that Powacycle offer a second battery for a very reasonable £99. At that price (and given that the battery weighs only 3.7kg) it would be worth making this a twobattery bike,with a theoretical range of 50-odd miles.
The low purchase price,reasonable range and economical battery replacement combine to give running costs of 4.8p per mile – the lowest we’ve measured in ten years of electric bike testing.That’s very significant.
…running costs of 4.8p per mile – the lowest we’ve seen in ten years. That’s very significant…
A to B Fact File
POWACYCLE Never heard of Powacycle? Neither had we until a few months ago.The company is part of Ultima Networks,which supplies computers and electronics and was set up in 1979.It seems the Chairman has an interest in green issues and alternative transport,and decided to import electric bikes after seeing them in use in China. The first bikes arrived in August last year and by November the company was specifying changes to the Chinese manufacturers.For example,the early batteries had kettle type three-pin sockets, so they could mistakenly have been connected directly to the mains;these have now been changed to small circular sockets. According to Wazz Mughal of Powacycle, the company sold 15,000 bikes in its first 12 months,and they’re aiming at 20,000 in the next twelve,on a turnover of £1 million. Until now,most have been sold direct to the public,but a dealer network is being built up. As they say,watch this space…
There’s no doubt that the Windsor is slower and less sophisticated than an Ezee or the now defunct Lafree.We proved this the hard way when we allowed 20 minutes to reach a remote station – a schedule that should have been easy for an electric bike – and missed the train by a full five minutes.But at £499 ready to roll,the Windsor is a real step forward from the old lead-acid dinosaurs of the past,making NiMH light weight technology genuinely affordable.Of course,the price is reflected in the componentry (especially those forks) but it should make electric bikes more accessible to more people, which has to be good news for all of us.
Powacycle Windsor£499 . Weight Bicycle 21kg Battery 3.7kg . Total 24.7kg (54lbs) . Gears Shimano SIS 6-spd derailleur . Ratios37″-73″ . Wheelbase117cm . BatteriesNiMH Capacity192Wh . Spare battery£99 . Range 19.5 miles . Full charge5hrs 10mins Fuel Consumption Overall 11.5Wh/mile . Running Costs4.8p per mile . Manufacturer Powacycle tel 01279 821243 mail firstname.lastname@example.org
A to B 56 – Oct 2006